The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is Dead: RIP!

It’s time to Break It Down!

By order of federal statute, annual Sessions of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) begin the first Monday in October.  The Court will close its 2012-13 Session today.  Before wrapping up the current Session, the Justices will likely rule on two controversial cases: the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and Proposition 8.  Both cases deal with issues of marriage and gender equality.  There will be a great deal of interest generated by the decisions on both cases.

In fact, in many ways, SCOTUS saved a sample of the year’s most high profile cases until the end of the Session.  This is a common practice; recall the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was disposed of near the end of last year’s Session.  During this final week, the Court remanded a key Affirmative Action case back to a lower court on Monday.  Yesterday, by a 5-4 vote, the Court struck down the central element of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA), Section IV.

It is fair to say this action did not come as a total surprise to those who are even vaguely familiar with the current composition of the Court.  It did, however, send reverberations through the civil rights community, through an array of minority communities that experienced numerous well-documented challenges to voting in the 2012 Election, within the Justice Department, and of course, in the Oval Office.

Despite the Court’s reticence, Congress re-authorized the VRA, consistently, whenever it was up for consideration.  Not only did Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush sign VRA re-authorization bills, but also in the most recent instance of the Act’s renewal, the Senate voted unanimously, 98-0 to re-authorize the law.  At the same time, in the House, the vote was not unanimous, but it was overwhelming, 390-33.

As we prepare to head into July, the penultimate month before the (August 28th) Observance of the 50th Anniversary of The March on Washington, there is acute irony in what amounts to the decertification of voting rights protections.  This judicial downgrade of voting rights will mute any revelry and exultation the anniversary of the March generates.

Like any great issue of the day, there are advocates and opponents of the VRA.  The five Justices who voted to characterize Section IV of the VRA as unconstitutional are not politicians.  They do however represent a distinct position on the political spectrum.  In short, on the Left, VRA supporters are asking, collectively, “How could they?”  Alternately, on the Right, the opposition is saying, “It’s about time!”

Section 4 of the VRA identified one group of States covered in their entirety (Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia), and a second group of States (Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, and North  Carolina), in which selected jurisdictions are covered by the provisions of the law.  The Court did hold that discrimination actually still exists, and that it is bad.  Nevertheless, the Furious Five (Justices) contended that the data set used to identify States subject the VRA is outdated.  This, they say, was the cause for overturning the Act.

The Court did not invalidate a second provision, Section 5.  However, without the support of Section 4, Section 5, which deals with “pre-clearance,” may be irrelevant, due to an inability to secure advanced clearance.  In short, for now a least, “The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is Dead: RIP!

I’m done; holla back!

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Bachmann Calls it a Wrap; Won’t Seek a Fifth Term!

It’s time to Break It Down!

Michele, not to be confused with Michelle, is pulling up stakes and taking her tent home.  Back on May 29th the Minnesota Republican Congresswoman and Tea Party favorite announced, via a video posted on her website, she would not seek another term in office.

Mrs. Bachmann stated in the video:

“After a great deal of thought and deliberation, I have decided next year I will not seek a fifth congressional term.  After serious consideration, I am confident that this is the right decision.”

Not surprisingly, the decision and announcement launched a rash of speculation.  So much so, that Representative Bachmann issued a number of defiantly pre-emptive comments, followed by a typically disparaging claim.

She insisted that she had no concern about possibly losing a bid for re-election to Jim Graves, a Democrat she defeated narrowly in her most recent run for Congress.  Moreover, she expressed complete confidence that were she to run, she would defeat Mr. Graves again.

She also dismissed the idea that a current ethics probe of her 2012 presidential campaign had any influence upon her decision.  The Representative expressed every confidence that her team followed all applicable rules and regulations.

Ultimately, Congresswoman Bachmann, in a final flourish, insisted that the media was out to get her.  She stated:

“I fully anticipate the mainstream liberal media to put a detrimental spin on my decision.  But I take being the focus of their attention; of their disparagement, as a true compliment of my public-service effectiveness.”

There has also been speculation about what the future holds for the Minnesota Congresswoman.  Of course, she has an array of options.  There is always the ever-popular standard landing spot for former GOP conservative pols, Fox News.  Perhaps she will land at the higher brow, Heritage Foundation.  Should push come to shove, she could land a comfy lobbying gig.  At any rate, chances are, even though Mrs. Bachmann will be leaving the Halls of Congress, she will continue to be a high profile figure.

Notwithstanding the unclear motivations for the Congresswoman to leave at this time, she provided somewhat more clarity about the possibility she might reenter politics.  In framing her future prospects, Congresswoman Bachmann said:

“There is no future option or opportunity, be it directly in the political arena or otherwise, that I won’t be giving serious consideration if it can help save and protect our great nation.”

I suppose we can all take comfort, or not, in that promise…or threat, depending upon your perspective.  Until that fateful point in time arrives, we will all just have to deal with the knowledge that “Bachmann Calls it a Wrap; Won’t Seek a Fifth Term!”

I’m done; holla back!

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Edward Snowden Blows the Whistle: What Next?

It’s time to Break It Down!

Edward Joseph Snowden demanded, and is receiving what Andy Warhol famously deemed his “Fifteen Minutes of Fame.”  A month ago, hardly anyone outside his family, school associates, neighbors, and employers had heard of the Elizabeth CityNorth Carolina native.  Then schiznit happened!

The former technical writer and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee, who worked as a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA) confessed that he released classified material on top-secret NSA programs, including the PRISM surveillance program to The Guardian and The Washington Post in June 2013.  Snowden, who turns 30 in concert with the Summer Solstice, on June 21st, is currently in hiding.  His last know whereabouts was Hong Kongone of two Special Administrative Regions of the People’s Republic of China.

The dossier on Eddie is unarguably a curious amalgam.  He studied computing in High School in Ellicott City, Maryland; failed to graduate.  He attended Anne Arundel Community College, in order to amass the necessary credits to attain a high school diploma; failed to complete.  After earning a GED he enlisted in the United States Army with the hope of affiliating with the Special Forces; discharged after four and a half months…did not complete a single unit of training, and, not surprisingly, was awarded no medals.

Still, despite what would likely appear to be for most folks, a staggering list of underwhelming academic and professional endeavors, Snowden managed to fashion an alternative universe filled with an impressive array of occupational achievements, including:

Booz Allen Hamilton fired Snowden on June 10th, 2013 “for violations of the firm’s code of ethics and firm policy.”

Beginning last month, the pace quickened for Snowden and his exploits.  Key points along a rapidly unfolding timeline include:

  • May 1 – Moved out of the home he shared with his live-in girlfriend, Lindsay Mills
  • May – Sought and received permission for temporary leave from NSA, ostensibly to receive treatment for epilepsy.
  • May 20 – Flew to Hong Kong and began living in The Mira Hotel.
  • June 6 – The Washington Post and The Guardian published Snowden’s revelations
  • June 9 – The Guardian made Snowden’s identity public at his request.
  • June 10 – Representative of The Mira reported that Snowden checked out at noon

So the question at hand is what is all the fuss about, really?

In a word, PRISMcodename for a clandestine national security electronic surveillance (and data collection) program operated by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) since 2007.   In documents released by Snowden, he described the program as capable of surveilling live communications and stored data.  The range of intel NSA can obtain using PRISM includes:

The original stories on the leaked data indicated that PRISM involved data collection from major internet services providers.

TechCrunch reported on the reactions of several of those companies, including:

  • Microsoft: “We provide customer data only when we receive a legally binding order or subpoena to do so, and never on a voluntary basis. In addition we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers. If the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data we don’t participate in it.”
  • Yahoo!: “Yahoo! takes users’ privacy very seriously. We do not provide the government with direct access to our servers, systems, or network.”
  • Facebook: “We do not provide any government organization with direct access to Facebook servers. When Facebook is asked for data or information about specific individuals, we carefully scrutinize any such request for compliance with all applicable laws, and provide information only to the extent required by law.”
  • Google: “Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government back door into our systems, but Google does not have a backdoor for the government to access private user data.”
  • Apple: “We have never heard of PRISM. We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order.”
  • Dropbox: “We’ve seen reports that Dropbox might be asked to participate in a government program called PRISM. We are not part of any such program and remain committed to protecting our users’ privacy.

In other words, depending on how you view it, the companies consistently deny, either their involvement in PRISM-related data mining, or, stick to the government’s party line that the tool collects only meta data, and that the resulting information is critical to maintaining optimal national security, and does not track American citizens living in this country.

Ed Snowden’s story is much more nuanced and complex than can be completely addressed in a blog post.  Suffice it to say, from what we have been told; the exposure arising from this leak may be evidence of the single most damaging link in history.  If that is true, there is a certain irony that the data became available because of an insider’s whistle blowing, rather than some external espionage plot.

It is said that Rome, and most former great Empires, met its demise due to internal factors, not external forces.  This post certainly does not profess to presage America’s demise as the final Superpower.  However, it does identify and elevate the daunting nature of what may be an unraveling threat in the fabric of our democracy.

Opinions vary widely on Snowden’s actions, and the efficacy or lack thereof of those actions.  Some folks have lauded him as a hero, while others have lambasted him as a heinous criminal of the first magnitude, and still others suggest he is a traitor.  At this time, he is definitely a fugitive.  Ultimately, I anticipate that as his story unfolds, many minds may change from their initial assessment.

Mr. Snowden stressed that PRISM stoked his concern about the erosion of personal privacy.  Many of the people who support the leak have expressed similar concerns.  In his response to this position, President Obama submitted that, “You can’t have 100% security, and also then have 100% privacy and 0 inconvenience.”  In the world in which we live today, that assertion sounds very plausible.

In all probability, we are in the early stages of Edward Snowden’s 15-Minutes.  As the sands drain from the hourglass, get used to the conversation…”Edward Snowden Blows the Whistle: Now What?

I’m done; holla back!

Read my blog anytime by clicking the link or A new post is published each Wednesday.

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The GOP in North Carolina: Large and In-charge!

It’s time to Break It Down!

In 2010, the GOP engineered the first two steps of a political metamorphosis in North Carolina.  The November election, greatly influenced by a surging Tea Party, sent Republican majorities into both Houses of the State Legislature.  Those results delivered with the change, a new reality.  It had been more than a century since the GOP controlled both chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly.

The ramifications were swift and impactful.  The Right leaning legislators used their new bicameral majority to control Decennial Redistricting that occurs after each Census.  Then came 2012, when the GOP added the third tier to their 3-part coup, by winning the Governorship.  The three-way sweep marked the first time since 1870 that the GOP had controlled all three elements of State Government.

The campaigns of Pat McCrory and a number of GOP legislative candidates received significant boost from Art Pope.  The multimillionaire’s heavy spending augmented the GOP’s efforts to retain and expand their advantageous foothold on the North Carolina State Government landscape.  According to the Institute for Southern Studies, a North Carolina-based research organization, says Mr. Pope’s advocacy network spent $2.2 million on 22 legislative races, 18 of which the GOP won.  In a macro assessment, the Institute determined that conservative organizations, largely supported by Pope, accounted for three-fourths of the outside money spent in North Carolina legislative races in 2010.

Politics have long been a rough and tumble endeavor.  In the purest essence, it is a matter of “To the victor go the spoils!” You might say it is often the guiding principle of politics.  In keeping with this truism, one of Governor McCrory’s first acts was to install Mr. Pope, a former State Legislator, as the State’s Budget Chief.  Now, the Party is moving swiftly to enact a long list of legislative imperatives that they say will limit government debt and snap the State’s economy out of a years-long malaise.

The erstwhile Party of Lincoln has undertaken what some might call a terrorist agenda.  North Carolina GOP Legislators have: 

  • Dramatically slashed jobless benefits
  • Repealed a tax credit that supplemented wages of low income people
  • Moved to eliminate the estate tax
  • Voted against expanding Medicaid to (required) to comply with the 2010 federal Health Care law     (The expansion would have added 500,000 poor North Carolinians to the Medicaid rolls)
  • The North Carolina House has passed a law requiring voters to have a government-issued identification card
  • Legislators are considering a bills to roll back the State’s law allowing same-day voter registration and to sharply limit early voting (measures that were integral to the high turnout of minority voters in the past several elections

Penda Hair, co-director of Advancement Project, a Washington-based civil rights group, has stated, “I don’t know that there is a State that has as many regressive policies on tap (as North Carolina).  Ms. Hair’s group is considering filing a lawsuit challenging changes to the North  Carolina’s voting laws. 

Meanwhile, the State’s NAACP has been organizing weekly protests each Monday (since April) to highlight opposition to the conservative policies the State GOP is considering and enacting.  This past Monday, police arrested 151 protesters.  Police estimate the crowd to have consisted of roughly 1,000; activist groups say it was about 1,600.  The crowds and arrest numbers have been growing each week. 

Yesterday, Governor McCrory called on the NAACP to end the protests.  The Governor indicated the demonstrations were unlawful and put a strain on resources.  He added, he has no interest in meeting with the protesters.  All in all, an interesting response.  I wonder if he has researched the history of civil disobedience.    

Groups participating in the protests have ranged from abortion-rights supporters to environmentalists and public educators.  Participants have been seeking to call attention to the rightward shift of the State Legislature.  It is conceivable that protests, litigation threats, and general discontent by liberals and centrists will eventually stem and turn the tide of conservatism that has taken hold of The Old North State.  However, the contemporary truth is that for now, like it or not, there is a New Normal…and that reality is – “The GOP in North Carolina: Large and In-charge!”  Deal with it North   Carolina! 

Read my blog anytime by clicking the link: or A new post is published each Wednesday

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